It’s been a book, movie and play. Perhaps that’s because “Bridge to Terabithia” is a story that resonates.
Katherine Paterson’s tale of friendship, childhood and tragedy won literature’s Newbery Medal in 1978. It became a film in 2007, and now a cast of mostly children will bring it to the Neuse Little Theatre stage starting Nov. 11.
T.J. Ruffino, 12, of Rosewood plays Jesse Aarons, a shy, lonely fifth-grader who loves to draw. His life begins to change when Leslie Burke, played by 13-year-old Erin Taylor of Angier, moves in next door. Leslie is a tomboy from a poor family who dresses and acts unlike any girl Aarons has met before.
With the encouragement of their teacher, played by Leslie Lazarus of Smithfield, Jesse and Leslie create an imaginary world in a nearby forest. They call it Terabithia, where they rule as king and queen.
The story is one of childhood innocence and wonder but also of the pains of reality, director Shaun Braswell said.
“It’s an adult show with a kids’ cast,” Braswell said of the production, which features just three adults and 12 child actors.
Most of the children do double duty as both classmates of Jesse and Leslie and as residents of the imaginary land they create.
“It deals with things kids’ shows don’t normally deal with,” Braswell said.
A veteran NLT actor and director, Braswell said child actors, while challenging in their own ways, are also more adventurous than their adult counterparts.
“They’re a lot more willing to try something new,” he said. “Good or bad, happy or sad. They’re willing to go there.”
“Bridge to Terabithia” has it’s share of lightness, humor and fun. But it also touches on serious topics, including death, that are emotionally powerful for the whole cast, Braswell said.
“We’ve practiced that less,” he said of the tragic scenes in the show. “We want them to be fresh for that. We don’t want it too rehearsed.”
Braswell said families with children should enjoy the show. The play, with music, gives families the opportunity “to talk about some of the things the show brings up.”
Taylor said the play begins cute, friendly and active. But then it “gets really dramatic, with a twist.”
“I read the book,” Ruffino added, “and I was just really in awe of it; it’s an amazing story. It’s very deep and has a lot of stuff to deal with, but it’s also a learning opportunity for us.”
“It’s a family-friendly show, but it’s also real life,” said Gabbie Hawks, 9, of Four Oaks, who plays MayBelle Aarons, Jesse’s younger sister. “It’s really inspiring.”
This is Lazarus’ first show with the Neuse Little Theatre. She plays Miss Edmunds, teacher to Jesse and Leslie.
“Ava Gardner is my distant cousin, and she really inspires everything I do,” Lazarus said of her desire to join the cast. “I like doing things with the community and getting to know people.”
Lazarus said the show appeals to all ages. “It’s really sweet, thinking of the world they create,” she said. “It’s upbeat, but it deals with real things. Everybody’s been there because everyone’s been a child with an imagination that’s taken them away someplace during good and bad times.
“It’s really a timeless story.”
Other cast members Leigh-Anne Pearce as Mrs. Aarons, Matt Gore as Mr. Aarons, Kaitlyn Zhoroff as Brenda Aarons, Anna Jane Gibbs as Janice Avery, Adrian Neal as Gary Fulcher, Reagan Cherry as Billy Jean and Serenity Bean, Dianna Boykin, Laney Barbour, Titania Ruffino and Cali Brynn Braswell as classmates.
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett
Want to see the show?
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 11-12, 3 p.m. Nov. 13 and 8 p.m. Nov. 18-19.
Where: The Hut on Front Street in downtown Smithfield.
How much: Tickets are $15 ahead of time, $17 on the day of the show. Cash or check only. For reservations, call 919-934-1873 and leave a message.